Call for priority to quit smoking when pregnant.

MORE women are being honest about smoking when pregnant, allowing health experts greater chance to assess risk factors, according to a Ballarat maternal health expert.

Ballarat Health Services women and child services nursing director Carolyn Robertson said short and long term risks were discussed each visit with midwives helping to find the right support needed for women to quit.

Health Minister Jill Hennessy has put the spotlight on women smoking late into their pregnancy after the new Victorian Perinatal Services Performance Indicators Report shows the rate of women smoking after 20 weeks’ gestation was on the rise from 5.6 per cent in 2009 to 7.8 per cent in 2014.

BHS figures show about 20 per cent of patients smoke before 20 weeks into their pregnancy with less than 15 per cent smoking late into pregnancy. This, like most equivalent hospitals, was deemed “non-outlying” in statewide quit rates. This did not account for women decreasing their smoking rate during pregnancy.

“Everybody knows smoking is bad for you but it’s really important women do disclose it because there are lots of risk factors,” Ms Robertson said.

“We do find a lot of women decrease their smoking once they are pregnant. Even though having a baby can be highly motivating it can also be harder for some women (to quit entirely) because pregnancy can be a stressful time.”

BHS actively works to make sure women are fully aware of how smoking can harm unborn babies. Ms Robertson said processes followed on from a blitz, as part of a research project, in the past few years.

This includes referring all pregnant smokers to the national quit hotline. Staff are also schooled in promoting motivation to quit and appropriate interview techniques so women feel comfortable to be honest about their smoking habits.

Pregnant women who smoke are at increased risk of ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, placenta praevia and pre-term labour. They are also more likely to give birth to a smaller baby.

The report has also prompted the state government to implement new measures for safety and quality in maternity services.

BHS is already part of the new Victorian Perinatal Autopsy Service, for more efficient and definitive results that can assist in future pregnancy planning.